Thursday, September 29, 2011

Land O' Lakes (and Sheep)

The main reason we rented a car was to take a 3-day trip up to the Lake District, in Northwestern England.  We'd heard wonderful things about this region, and decided that Josh's parents' visit provided a good opportunity to see it for ourselves.  We set off on Sunday morning (Sept 25), stopping in Stratford-Upon-Avon for lunch (but no Shakespeare).  At the recommendation of a couple of my fellow AWC members, we stayed at the Lakeside House in Keswick (pronounced "Kezick").  When I called to make the reservation and mentioned I was a member of the AWC, the proprietor offered me their two nicest rooms at a small discount.  Clearly, they do good business through word of mouth!
Lakeside House
B&Bs can be hit or miss, both in terms of the furnishings and service, but this one was fantastic.  The whole place had been recently refurbished, and the rooms were very tastefully decorated.
Our room at the Lakeside House
Our room with a view
The view from our room!
We arrived Sunday evening and had a tasty dinner at a nearby restaurant that the owner of the B&B had recommended.  On Monday morning, after a nice breakfast, we set out on a hike around the town of Keswick and the lake it overlooks, Derwent Water.

Boats along Derwent Water
We hiked up to a spot that our map indicated was a "scenic overlook."  No kidding!

After coming back down the other side, the trail took us through acres of green sheep pastures crisscrossed with ancient stone walls.  I have never seen so many sheep in my life!

Ubiquitous Lake District sheep
It's pretty difficult to stray off the trail
Sheep farming (and the occasional herd of cows) appeared to be the only local industry, apart from tourism, of course.  But we did come across this one field of turnips, or "swede" as they are known in England.
Field of swede.
We eventually made our way to one of the few man-made attractions of the Lake District: the Castlerigg Stone Circle.  Sort of a mini Stonehenge - with equally mysterious origins and function -  just outside of Keswick.
Diagram of the stone circle

And, of course, sheep.
We arrived back in town at lunchtime, and since it was such a lovely day, we ate outside.  I snapped this photo while we were waiting for our food.
Blue skies over Keswick
In the afternoon, we took a boat trip around Derwent Water in one of the large historic wooden boats that cruises around the lake.
Getting settled on the boat, which looked much like the one in the background.
We decided to disembark about halfway around the lake (the boat stops at several different spots), and go for a walk.
Bye, bye, boat....
As expected there was a path that went around the perimeter of the lake.  But we didn't expect to see this:
In wood hands.
On the boardwalk
The southern end of the lake was a bit marshy, so the path turned into a lovely boardwalk with bridges over the particularly wet bits.
We managed to make it around to the dock at the other side of the lake just in time to catch another boat heading back to Keswick, where we had tea and scones at a cafe overlooking the lake.  On the way back to our B&B, we walked through the adjacent Hope Park, with a mini golf course, bowling green, and lovely landscaped flower beds.
Hope Park
In the evening, we saw a performance of Noel Coward's Hay Fever at the local Theatre on the Lake, right down the street from our B&B.  The play itself was a bit odd, but the sets and acting were quite good -- certainly on par with any West End production.

Theatre on the Lake
On Tuesday we set off by car to the village of Buttermere.  The roads in the Lake District are VERY narrow and winding, often with stone walls on one or both sides. In some spots, they aren't even wide enough for two cars to pass, so it can be a bit tricky.
These roads are narrow!
Really narrow!
We stopped along the way at a scenic overlook.  Along with the requisite flocks of sheep, there was a small waterfall and a sweeping view down the valley we had just driven through.
Not a bad view
The roads are quite steep, too!
Buttermere turned out to be a cute little village surrounded by dramatic scenery.
We went for a hike around Lake Buttermere, which takes about 3 hours, and is relatively easy with lovely views.
Lake Buttermere
Through a spooky tunnel
Did I mention there were sheep?
Lambs: Maaa!  Maaa!  Ewe: Buzz off, kids!  I told you, this is "ewe" time.

Cascading waterfall
Gone fishin'
Afterwards, we ate a hearty lunch at a local pub, and couldn't resist sampling the ice cream at the local dairy.
Ice cream!
Josh watches out for sheep while enjoying his ice cream
We took a different route back towards Keswick, which took us through Honister Pass, and the Honister Slate Mine.

Who visits a slate mine?  We do!
There was nothing else for miles around except the mine, and inexplicably, a youth hostel right next door.  The mine did seem like a popular stop, though, with a cafe, gift shop, and tours of the mine.
The mine from above
We all took off in different directions to explore the area and stretch our legs before heading back to Keswick.
slate picnic table
entrance to Honister Pass
View from above the mine
On Wednesday morning, after another tasty breakfast, we packed up our things, checked out of the Lakeside House, and set out for the village of Grasmere for another lakeside hike.
Did I mention the narrow roads?
Lake Grasmere

Josh and Bill claim this land for their own
Cathedral Cave

Part of the hike took us along the "Coffin Trail," which is the route along which coffins were once carried to Grasmere before there was a church in the nearby village of Rydal.  Along the way, we encountered this dead tree, which was completely covered with coins that appeared to have been hammered into the bark.
Money tree
Our next destination was a lunch stop in the village of Hawkshead, which we had heard was particularly beautiful.  In fact, it seemed a bit touristy, and was full of gift shops selling overpriced Beatrix Potter merchandise.  It did have a few charms, though...
Wordsworth Street.  Formerly Leather, Rag & Putty Street
St Michael's  & All Angels Church
After a somewhat unremarkable pub lunch and a quick walking tour around the village, we hit the road and reluctantly headed back to London.

I hope we'll have a chance to visit the Lake District again, since there is so much more to see and do than we had time for in 3 days.  Josh's parents enjoyed it as well, and his mom is already looking into renting a house or flat there for several weeks next summer, so the odds of our returning seem pretty good.